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GAO: Gaps in Regulation of Assisted Living Facilities Leaves Patients Vulnerable

The Government Accountability Office issued a report recently that addressed instances of abuse, neglect, exploitation and other types of harm that occurred by Medicaid-funded assisted living facilities. 

The report, “Medicaid Assisted Living Services: Improved Federal Oversight of Beneficiary Health and Welfare is Needed,” the GAO indicated that both federal and state Medicaid agencies are failing in endeavors of effective monitoring of assisted living facilities – meaning residents are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect. This 52-page report was long-anticipated, and it underscores the lack of enforcement when it comes to baseline standards expected of assisted living facilities and their care of older residents.

The first problem that more than half of state Medicaid service agencies were unable to reveal the nature or number of “critical incidents” that occurred in these facilities. Three of them aren’t even monitoring deaths that are unexplained or unexpected. Eight states don’t track suspected criminal activity by nursing home staffers, seven don’t track medication errors and five don’t track injuries that result in hospitalization. 

Meanwhile, as The New York Times reported, the federal government is spending billions of dollars on supporting this industry. Yet there is little to know accountability and only vague standards by which they are expected to abide.

Many of the people who live in these facilities are characterized as “particularly vulnerable,” and include older adults with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and those with severe physical and intellectual disabilities.

The GAO report is the result of two years of study and was requested by a small group of bipartisan senators.

It’s worth noting there is a difference between nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Assisted living facilities on the whole are supposed to be a step-down from nursing homes, yet offer more hands-on care than one would receive living at home with the assistance of an aide. Residents can get help with things like bathing, dressing and eating, as well as things like managing their medications.

Some states have individually taken initiative to pass laws that enhance licensing requirements and penalties when those centers perform poorly. But while nursing homes have been the subject of Congressional scrutiny – up to and including dozens of requirements on the type of care and services they must provide – assisted living facilities haven’t faced that same kind of scrutiny.

The report indicated that assisted living facilities have the potential to save government money because they provide less intensive care, which means it generally costs less. However, the fact that these facilities have typically evaded federal scrutiny is concerning, especially as the demand for this level of services has increased as life expectancy creeps up and the population continues to age.

Researchers recommended CMS start requiring these facilities to report their data annually to the federal government to help close these gaps and give us a better idea of how these operators are performing, what level of care they are providing and what the deficiency trends are. It was noted that absent any clear guidance on what kind of deficiencies they are expected to support and no requirement of this, the federal government is going to be unaware of systemic problems – and so too will current and prospective patients.

Victims of Orlando assisted living facility abuse, neglect and negligence must hire an experienced legal team to help them fight for their rights.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Pays Billions for ‘Assisted Living,’ but What Does It Get? Feb. 3, 2018, By Robert Pear, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Report: Florida’s Worst Nursing Homes Remain Open, March 7, 2018, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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